Ancient History Sourcebook:
Documents on Greek Slavery, c. 750 - 330 BCE
Works and Days, c. 750 BCE First of all, get a house, and a woman and an ox for the plough--a slave woman and not
a wife, to follow the oxen as well--and make everything ready at home, so that you may not
have to ask of another, and he refuse you, and so, because you are in lack, the season
pass by and your work come to nothing.
Geographia, [written c. 20 A.D.], circa 550 BCE And the temple of Aphrodite [at Corinth] was so rich that it owned more than
a thousand temple slaves---prostitutes---whom both free men and women had dedicated to the
goddess. And therefore it was also on account of these temple-prostitutes that the city
was crowded with people and grew rich; for instance, the ship captains freely squandered
their money, and hence the proverb, "Not for every man is the voyage to
On the Choreutes, c. 430 BCE So powerful is the compulsion of the law, that even if a man slays one who is his own
chattel [i.e., his slave] and who has none to avenge him, his fear of the
ordinances of god and of man causes him to purify himself and withhold himself from those
places prescribed by law, in the hope that by so doing he will best avoid disaster.
Against Timocrates. c. 350 BCE If, gentlemen of the jury, you will turn over in your minds the question what is the
difference between being a slave and being a free man, you will find that the biggest
difference is that the body of a slave is made responsible for all his misdeeds, whereas
corporal punishment is the last penalty to inflict on a free man.
The Politics---On Slavery, c. 330 BCE Let us first speak of master and slave, looking to the needs of practical life and also
seeking to attain some better theory of their relation than exists at present....Property
is a part of the household, and the art of acquiring property is a part of the art of
managing the household; for no man can live well, or indeed live at all, unless he be
provided with necessaries. And so, in the arrangement of the family, a slave is a living
possession, and property a number of such instruments; and the slave is himself an
instrument which takes precedence of all other instruments.....The master is only the
master of the slave; he does not belong to him, whereas the slave is not only the slave of
his master, but wholly belongs to him. Hence we see what is the nature and office of a
slave; he who is by nature not his own but another's man, is by nature a slave; and he may
be said to be another's man who, being a human being, is also a possession. And a
possession may be defined as an instrument of action, separable from the possessor.But is there any one thus intended by nature to be a slave, and for whom such a
condition is expedient and right, or rather is not all slavery a violation of nature?
There is no difficulty in answering this question, on grounds both of reason and of fact.
For that some should rule and others be ruled is a thing not only necessary, but
expedient; from the hour of their birth, some are marked out for subjection, others for
rule....Again, the male is by nature superior, and the female inferior; and the one rules,
and the other is ruled; this principle, of necessity, extends to all mankind.Where then there is such a difference as that between soul and body, or between men and
animals (as in the case of those whose business is to use their body, and who can do
nothing better), the lower sort are by nature slaves, and it is better for them as for all
inferiors that they should be under the rule of a master. For he who can be, and therefore
is, another's and he who participates in rational principle enough to apprehend, but not
to have, such a principle, is a slave by nature. Whereas the lower animals cannot even
apprehend a principle; they obey their instincts. And indeed the use made of slaves and of
tame animals is not very different; for both with their bodies minister to the needs of
life. Nature would like to distinguish between the bodies of freemen and slaves, making
the onestrong for servile labor, the other upright, and although useless for such services,
useful for political life in the arts both of war and peace. But the opposite often
happens---that some have the souls and others have the bodies of free men. And doubtless
if men differed from one another in the mere forms of their bodies as much as the statues
of the gods do from men, all would acknowledge that the inferior class should be slaves of
the superior. It is clear, then, that some men are by nature free, and others slaves, and
that for these latter slavery is both expedient and right.There is a slave or slavery by law as well as by nature. The law of which I speak is a
sort of convention---the law by which whatever is taken in war is supposed to belong to
the victors. But this right many jurists impeach, as they would an orator who brought
forward an unconstitutional measure: they detest the notion that, because one man has the
power of doing violence and is superior in brute strength, another shall be his slave and
subject. Even among philosophers there is a difference of opinion. The origin of the
dispute, and what makes the views invade each other's territory, is as follows: in some
sense virtue, when furnished with means, has actually the greatest power of exercising
force; and as superior power is only found where there is superior excellence of some
kind, power seems to imply virtue, and the dispute to be simply one about justice (for it
is due to one party identifying justice with goodwill while the other identifies it with
the mere rule of the stronger). If these views are thus set out separately, the other
views have no force or plausibility against the view that the superior in virtue ought to
rule, or be master. Others, clinging, as they think, simply to a principle of justice (for law and custom
are a sort of justice), assume that slavery in accordance with the custom of war is
justified by law, but at the same moment they deny this. For what if the cause of the war
be unjust? And again, no one would ever say he is a slave who is unworthy to be a slave.
Were this the case, men of the highest rank would be slaves and the children of slaves if
they or their parents chance to have been taken captive and sold. Wherefore Hellenes do
not like to call Hellenes slaves, but confine the term to barbarians. Yet, in using this
language, they really mean the natural slave of whom we spoke at first; for it must be
admitted that some are slaves everywhere, others nowhere. The same principle applies to
nobility. Hellenes regard themselves as noble everywhere, and not only in their own
country, but they deem the barbarians noble only when at home, thereby implying that there
are two sorts of nobility and freedom, the one absolute, the other relative.
From: Aristotle, The Politics of Aristotle, Benjamin Jowett, trans., (New York:
Colonial Press, 1900), pp. 4-9; Fred Morrow Fling, ed., A Source Book of Greek History, (Boston: D. C. Heath,
1907), pp. 23-26, 29-30.nbsp;Scanned by: J. S. Arkenberg, Dept. of History, Cal. State Fullerton. Prof. Arkenberg
has modernized the text.
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